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When I think back to the time I went on my round the world trip, I have a bunch of thoughts cross my mind. It’s a combination of not believing it was that long ago already (2013!), disbelief that I actually did it, absolute amazement at how lucky I am and surprise that I made it back alive (just kidding!). 13 countries in 8 months was a fantastic crazy whirlwind that absolutely flew by. Ever since this trip I always tell people that if I’m not at work, I’m away somewhere new. Travel is where all my money goes, and I have this trip to thank for that!
I went around the world with my best friend Jess; we finished uni, worked our arses off and had no social lives in the interim to be able to do it, but it was so worth it! It’s something that we still always talk about and a time I will never forget.
Since coming back home to the UK after travelling I have spent as much time as I can visiting other places doing a bunch of weekend breaks to Europe and the UK. These are a lot easier to plan than around the world trip, so let me take you back to my time backpacking to share the wheres and hows of travelling around the world!
As I’m a Brit, I naturally went as far away from home and Europe as I could for this trip. Here are the countries I visited (mostly) in the order I visited them. I say ‘mostly’ as I did a bit of jumping around and changing plans which made my trip less straight-lined. Luckily, we booked this trip with STA Travel who specialise in creating itineraries and being flexible. I honestly cannot rate them higher, they were great and I would definitely use them again!
Round the World at a Glance:
The Philippines (1 Months), Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand and Malaysia (2 months), Australia (1 month), New Zealand (1 month), Samoa (2 weeks), Chile (10 days), Bolivia (2 weeks), Argentina (1 month), Brazil (3 weeks), New York (literally 36 hours)
The obvious perfect place to start an around the world trip for any backpacker. It’s about as different from the West as you can get, and of course, it’s cheap. I had researched until my eyes fell out but it was still a culture shock but this is exactly what I wanted!
It’s super easy to get around here. Buses, coaches and trains are all cheap and run regularly to all the main destinations. The prices can also be haggled down which is something you need to do – I felt bad at first as it’s already cheap, but I knew that I was still paying shit loads more than a local. These buses will take you across borders which is a strange set up as you sometimes have to go into a load of minibuses instead, but whatever. Be prepared for long overnight journeys as well. The sleeper buses and trains are an experience for sure! There are also some budget airlines I used as I ended up hopping around a bit further than intended. Find out more details in my post here.
Our decision to start in The Philippines was an easy one as one of our best friends is Filipino so it was an amazing chance to explore her home. We were incredibly lucky here and were able to stay in her beautiful family home in Manila and explore around from there. We spent 1 month hopping out to a number of places that each have something fantastically different to offer.
Route: Manila was our base and we hopped out to Bohol, Boracay, Dumaguete and Palawan
Vietnam was our first proper taste of nitty-gritty tourist backpacking. We landed in Hanoi and threw ourselves into the hostel staying, street food eating, traffic dodging life here. It was something I had never experienced but you just gotta go with the flow! For the next 3 weeks we made our way South to Ho Chi Minh (Saigon) stopping off at a tonne of places along the way. Find out about my 3 week route here to get you inspired!
Route: Hanoi and Ha Long Bay, Ninh Binh, Hue to Hoi An by motorbike (stopping off at Da Nang), Nha Trang, Da Lat and Ho Chi Minh
Honestly, Cambodia was one of my favourite countries I visited. It’s steeped in culture and history and is simply stunning. The people are incredibly friendly and the food is delicious! It is of course home to the famous Angkor Wat and its surrounding Wat’s and some amazing beaches as well. Cambodia is an incredibly poor country though and its history is beyond devastating. If you don’t know about it (like I didn’t before I got there), it’s well worth doing some research on the Pol Pot Regime just so you can understand a bit about what these people have been through.
Route: Phnom Penh, Sihanoukville and Siem Reap
THAILAND AND MALAYSIA
This is where the route starts to jump around a bit. In actual fact, Malaysia was never on our itinerary but we had time to fit something else in, fancied a change and also had to get out of Thailand for a bit due to visa reasons (it only allows for 30 days at a time and we had longer than that until our flight left for Australia). I’m so glad this happened though as we had the perfect chance to throw ourselves into the city madness and also to chill out by the coast. In hindsight, this was not an ideal route, but these things happen!
Route: Bangkok, Phuket, Penang, Kuala Lumpur, Chiang Mai (by plane), Back to Bangkok
Australia and New Zealand are simply amazing. They are the perfect combination of outdoors life, comfy cities and super friendly locals. Dare I say it, but they were also a welcoming westernised lifestyle; after 3 months of being asked ‘Tuk Tuk Lady?’ we kinda needed a break. Australia and New Zealand may have been the most expensive countries, but they are unmissable! These places are set up for campervanning, so I would definitely hire one and hit the road.
Ok, so the ultimate way to get around Australia and New Zealand is to hire a Camper Van. These countries are completely set up to cater for campers with loads of sites all over the place. You can also park up elsewhere but keep an eye out for signs saying that campers are not permitted. They are keen to preserve the natural beauty here so please adhere to them! If you don’t want to hire a camper, there are coach companies that run all over the place. Companies like GreyHound in Australia and Naked Bus that offer reasonable ticket rates so check these out.
No trip to Australia would be complete without travelling along the East Coast. If you’re looking for an amazing road trip, this is it! I was recently talking to someone about Australia who hadn’t been and he replied with ‘well I guess it’s great if you like beaches’. But Australia is SO MUCH MORE than beaches. Don’t get me wrong they are spotlessly beautiful, but there is also amazing food, street art in the cities, hiking routes, wildlife and the list goes on and on. It’s the perfect place to explore! We were there in the winter (July-August) and it was cool in the south but was absolutely fine North of Sydney. We fit our whole route into a month but it was tight and we spent a lot of hours on the road getting to the next place.
So I know I just said that Australia was great for lovers of the outdoors, but to be honest, it doesn’t compare next to New Zealand. The South Island is absolutely stunning, full of snow-topped mountains, lakes, rivers, wildlife and winding roads. Again, I drove around here and it makes for an amazing road trip! The North Island is less postcard-pretty but it still has beautiful scenery and nature to explore. I fell in love with Wellington here – it’s one of those places where I just felt completely at home! Also, if you’ve got a sweet tooth you have to pick up some Whittaker’s chocolate from a supermarket, it’s divine!
Route: South Island – Christchurch, Kaikoura, Abel Tasman, Hokitika, Fox Glacier, Wanaka, Queenstown, Lake Tekapo
Route: North Island – Wellington, Napier, Taupo, Rotoroua, Auckland, Bay of Islands
Yes, we’ve all heard of Fiji and how amazing it is. Did we go there? No. We decided to go to Samoa, a place we had only vaguely heard of and knew absolutely nothing about. But it’s a Pacific Island so it was bound to be amazing right? Well to be fair, that was right. Made of 2 tiny islands, Samoa is beautiful, peaceful and just what we needed after 5 months almost solidly on the move. My absolute favourite place we stayed was at Jolene’s Beach Fales, right on the water’s edge.
There are buses to get around the islands, a ferry that goes between them and we also hired a car out for a couple of days to go wherever we wanted.
Route: Upolu – Apia, Cross Island Road (Papapapaitai Falls), Lotofaga (To Sua Ocean Trench), Lalomanu
Route: Savii – Jolean’s Beach Fales, Afu Aua Waterfall, Falealupo (last place where the sun sets every day)
After Samoa, we had to fly back to Auckland to catch our flight to Chile. I knew nothing about South America before we went. We spent quite a bit of time trying to research stuff about it when we were in Samoa but got nowhere. But this worked out just fine! I love South America and really really love Argentina – there’s something so buzzy about it!
I’m just gonna say it, you will be spending a lot of time on overnight coaches. When I say a lot, I’m talking 20+ hours. But don’t panic! These coaches are super comfy and a lot of the time you will sleep through the journey. South America is MASSIVE but coaches are the easiest way to go and are also cheap. When you want to get a ticket, go to the coach station and spend a bit of time asking around for prices at the different companies as the prices can vary but I don’t think the coaches are any less good. For added comfort, you can also choose between different seat classes to have a half-reclining or full reclining seat (Semi-Cama or Cama). Depending on what country you’re in, the roads can be a bit on the rough side sometimes so be prepared!
We honestly didn’t know what to expect when we landed in Santiago, the capital of Chile, but it’s actually a really nice city. The buildings are beautiful and quite European in style. Chile is pretty big and I wish I had been able to spend more time here. One thing that I found fascinating about Chile, wait for it, is its view on death. Yes, weird I know, but the cemetery here is massive and the Mausoleums are beyond extravagant. It’s also considered normal to spend the day here and take a picnic. Death just isn’t seen as morbid here!
Route: Santiago, San Pedro de Atacama, Salar de Uyuni
Entering Bolivia through Salar de Uyuni Salt Flats is amazing. Bolivia is the poorest of the countries I visited in South America. It’s full of colour, culture and traditions. La Paz is the highest capital city in the World, and trust me, the altitude takes some getting used to. Not joking, I would get out of my bunk bed in the hostel to go to the bathroom and get out of breath! However, Bolivia is home to the famous Death Road which you absolutely have to do! I struggled big time but the views are amazing.
Route: Salar de Uyuni, La Paz, Sucre, Potosi
Ah, my absolute favourite! If you like wine, dancing, music, food and amazing architecture, then you will love it too! It kinda has a European feel with it’s outdoor cafes and restaurants and the squares in the cities. Buenos Aires is my all time favourite city I visited whilst travelling round the world. We ended up staying longer than we had intended because there’s just so much to do and it’s one of those places where it’s just nice to be there.
Route: Salta, Cordoba, Mendoza, Buenos Aires, Iguazu Falls
I was so excited to see Brazil. back in the UK, when you think of Brazil you think of parties, dancing, festivals, beautiful people and beaches. And to be honest, a lot of it was like that! Brazilians love to have a good time! Sao Paulo is great for street art, Paraty is simply gorgeous and full of cobbled streets, Ilha Grande is a fantastic island escape, and Rio is, well Rio! Exactly as vibrant as we see on the TV! Brazil is massive and as with Argentina, I wish I could have spent more time here; I would love to go into the Amazon and experience that, but at least I have the perfect excuse to go back!
Route; Iguazu Falls, Sao Paulo, Paraty, Ilha Grande, Rio de Janeiro
The final stop! My time in New York was a complete whirlwind. It was December, snowing, freezing and we only had 36 hours to explore it! It felt weird being in a cold country after the humidity of Brazil but it felt a lot more like Christmas. New York was simply magical at that time of year. As we were only there for a short amount of time we had planned a lot! We were staying at the Double Tree Hilton (such luxury after dorm rooms) on Lexington Avenue and it was a great spot for getting everywhere. We also met up with a local New Yorker we met in Australia so we had the perfect person to show us around!
It’s actually fairly easy to walk a lot of New York but if not then jump on the subway. Not gonna lie, I really struggled with the Subway map so I just asked a local or a member of staff how to get somewhere.
Route: Empire State Building, Times Square, 9/11 Memorial, view of the Statue of Liberty, Brooklyn Bridge and the Manhatten Skyline, Top of the Rock at the Rockafella Centre, West Village for the nightlife, Central Park, Tiffanys